The People's Galleries


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Art Museums and Exhibitions in Britain, 1800–1914

Giles Waterfield

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This innovative history of British art museums begins in the early 19th century. The National Gallery and the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in London may have been at the center of activity, but museums in cities such as Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Nottingham were immensely popular and attracted enthusiastic audiences. The People’s Galleries traces the rise of art museums in Britain through World War I, focusing on the phenomenon of municipal galleries. This richly illustrated book argues that these regional museums represented a new type of institution: an art gallery for a working-class audience, appropriate for the rapidly expanding cities and shaped by liberal ideals. As their broad appeal weakened with the new century, they adapted and became more conventional. Using a wide range of sources, the book studies the patrons and the publics, the collecting policies, the temporary exhibitions, and the architecture of these institutions, as well as the complex range of reasons for their foundation.

Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Giles Waterfield is director of Royal Collection Studies, associate lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and an independent curator.

"It is a magisterial and astonishing overview of a series of energetic interventions that changed the cultural map of Britain: a huge book and a highly significant one… This story, so elegantly told, is unputdownable."—Marina Vaizey, Art Quarterly

“…comprehensive and exceptionally well-researched analysis... What Giles Waterfield’s book does, quietly and non-polemically, is to rescue the zeal and enthusiasm of those who opened great civic art museums from the condescension of art history.”— Charles Saumarez Smith, Literary Review

“Admirably researched”—Hugh Belsey, Art Newspaper

“[A] fascinating history of Britian’s first popular museums”—Marcus Waithe, Apollo 

“This is a rich, dense account of a topic not previously treated so comprehensively… Waterfield is a novelist as well as a historian, so his writing is unfailingly elegant and interweaves many piquant quotations”—Anthony Burton, DAS Newsletter

“Righteous or self-serving then, frayed or refurbished now, their legacies remain. Disclaiming any intention to write a polemic, Waterfield manages a positive conclusion. Art for all, the people’s property, was hard-won but entered the nation’s DNA.”—David Blayney Brown, World of Interiors

“…a sophisticated work of scholarship that tells a detailed and fascinating story. As instructive and entertaining as the Victorian museums with which it is concerned, it will be an invaluable resource for many years to come.”—Susan Owens, TLS

“Its comprehensive authority will inspire many future students of the history of museums, taste, collecting, and nineteenth-century visual culture to pursue their interests with the same rigour.”—Simon Spier, Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies
ISBN: 9780300209846
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
372 pages, 9 x 11
70 color + 215 b/w illus.